British Basket Case: 1988 Sterling 825SL

Are you looking for a late 80’s Acura Legend, but without the reliability and easy parts availability? Well, look no further! This 1988 Sterling 825SL does share many common components with its Japanese cousin but is known for a few… “quirks” of its own. You can find this one for sale here on Craigslist near Boise, ID for the asking price of $1,200.

I hate to harp on the somewhat tired trope of temperamental British electrical systems but in this case, it seems that the reputation truly is well deserved. While Sterling used some of the same parts as the Acura Legend for the drivetrain and suspension, the sheet metal and, sigh, electrical work was all the responsibility of the Rover Group in England. The cars initially found a fairly warm reception with the American audience, but their experience quickly soured as the new owners complained of shoddy trim work and electrical gremlins aplenty.

This example sports the Honda-designed V6 2.5L engine with 160,000 miles on the clock and an automatic transmission. The seller states it has had a lot of recent work done to it but still needs some more TLC and… interior wiring (cue sad trombone). Hopefully, the rest of the electrical issues have been sorted out in the past 30 years its been on the road, as the seller does indicate it runs and drives well. Paint is a bit tired but looks like it could be decently restored; sadly no interior pics but it needs a cleaning and conditioning according to the listing.

The practical side of me says to stay far away from this likely-basket case, but on the other hand, I always have a soft spot for unusual variants of more common cars. For $1200, is it worth the gamble to give this unloved little runt a nice new home?


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  1. Yellowjax Member

    A sad time for British automobiles. How did it come to this? Poor management or lazy hungover line workers? Bad designs (TR7)? I have owned many MG’s and Triumphs in the past (All below 1970) and this POS makes me sad.

    Like 6
    • Sam61

      My theory is that Brittish WWll vets came home with French and Italian brides, had children, then a generation later you end up with boiled meat, bad teeth and cars with electrical problems. The flip side is you have great cheese, wine and fine tailored clothing.

      …sorry, long way to go for a bad joke. Honda should have shipped badge engineered cars to the UK.

      Like 9
      • Britcarowner

        Evidently you know nothing about Britain, British people or British cars.

        Like 3
    • That AMC Guy

      All of the above, basically a complete cluster**** from top to bottom. The story in excruciating detail can be found here:

      Like 5
  2. Ralph

    One of the funniest stories I recall about these came from someone who sold them briefly, they were out on the lot walking through the inventory looking for one model and he heard a soft on and off “thrump-thrump” sound coming in unison from several cars, after looking around at the cars he noticed that about 5 Sterlings were locking and unlocking their power locks in unison on their own causing a rhythmic “thrump-thrump” sound of all the central locking systems going up and down.

    Like 16
  3. Coventrycat

    How Rover could take a perfectly good Honda/Acura and mess it up with lousy build quality I’ll never understand. I’d be tempted as well though.

    Like 5
    • Beatnik Bedouin

      The Rover/Honda marriage was a last-ditch effort for the British to have their own domestic motor industry, but sadly didn’t solve the legacy British Leyland’s quality issues.

      Like 3
  4. Scott Tait

    Buy a car built on a Wednesday …less trouble all round no back to or finish early woes

    Like 1
  5. Al

    What do you expect, proper British Management [pBM] can not talk to the floor (floor being those people assembling the vehicle). You, pBM, only speak to the floor via a memo or directive.
    Any grumbling from the floor can only go through the Shop Steward [SS], who does not want to look as a complainer to pBM simply because he(she) in their elevated position is superior to the floor, even though they are not pBM.
    Who wins? Certainly not the vehicle purchaser nor the floor.
    But you must remember pBM has done there job, rightly so.

    Like 16
  6. Kenneth Carney

    Oh no folks, not interested in this one.
    I’ve already rescued one british car from
    the crusher in ’72 and that was quite
    enough for me. Just goes to show that
    the british couldn’t build a reliable car if
    their lives depended on it. If it had been
    built in America, it would’ve been a very
    successful car IMHO. That’s why I don’t
    buy anything built in Europe.

    • luke arnott Member

      A tad simplistic my friend,I have owned and driven several AWFUL vehicles built in the USA.

      Like 7
      • Matt Hurst Member

        Don’t worry, we feature plenty of lousy American cars on this site too :)

        Like 5
      • Dave Mazz

        I see that this Sterling has 160,000 miles on the odometer, and is “still around”, somebody must have liked it. Too bad the Rover people didn’t also use Honda electrical components as well. And they could have called it a Sternda… :-) :-)

    • Britcarowner

      Evidently you know nothing about Britain, British people or British cars.

      Like 1
  7. Howard A Member

    Now THIS is the car I heard to run from screaming into the night. Even the seller admits they are RARELY seen. Duh, wonder why? Too bad, I like British cars, but a half baked attempt to try and copy the Asians, who were by this time, masters at cars like this. Really, who is going to want this?

  8. Derek

    There was a much-better-looking fastback/hatchback version, too. The one notable thing that I remember it for is a 100mph “course clear” IOM TT lap in the capable hands of Tony Pond. 827 fastback running an exhaust and slicks; I think it’s on youtube.

    Like 3
    • James

      Always thought that was a vitesse with the 2.0ltr turbo lump. But you may well be right. It’s a great video. Had a vitesse 800 for a short while, went like a train but it was very tired, and that was when it was 3 years old

      Like 1
      • Concinnity

        The first Vitesse 800s were manual transmission and 2.7 Honda V6 powered.
        The S.2 switched to the T series Turbo to save the cost of paying Honda for their expensive engines, also the Turbo made more power with the limitation being the Honda derived gearbox which capped reliable gearboxes at about 200bhp, but with a very flat torque curve They are easy motors to get big power out of , but with stock internals 300bhp is pretty much the limit.
        No vehicles fitted with Rover’s own 2 litre 16 V turbo were sold in the USA, though since they are a direct descendent of the old B series, they are an easy bolt in to an MGB, don’t be surprised if some turn up.

    • Concinnity

      It set a lap record that stood for years, till surpassed by a 400bhp WRX

  9. wuzjeepnowsaab

    In the late 80’s I was shopping for a car and it came down to a Sterling and a gen 1 Legend. Fortunately I chose the Acura

    Like 2
  10. charlie Member

    My brand new Audi Q5 had no less than 8 electronic problems, including complete failure of the built in Navigation system requiring 10 days in the shop for all of them – three days for one failure due to no parts since many were failing. All under the 50,000 mile warranty, fortunately, since the Navigation system is $700, plus labor – but it is so inferior to Googlemaps on my phone that I rarely use it. My point is, that Lucas has a present day counterpart, called Chinese components even in medium high end German cars. Now I did have one Lucas failure in a 10 year old MG, under dash fire, pulled out flaming wires, got home minus headlights, but otherwise, got a year out of it with no real electrical issues.

    Like 2
    • Al

      Try a Garmin, substantially better than Googlemaps. In the last 6 months Googlemaps has become crap to what it was before.

      Like 5
  11. Concinnity

    Body, trim and mechanical parts for these, like those missing front indicator/park lights and ALL body panels are still available NEW from Rimmer Bros in the UK at sometimes surprisingly cheap prices.–Rover-800-Early–m-1608

    As for reliability, well it’s not as bad as a GM X car, a Cadillac 8-6-4, or 4100 V8, or Cimarron, or Allante; or Iron Duke Camaro or GM E body,or U body minivan; or Dodge Caliber or Nitro or a huge list of other US cars.

    But yes,it’s British so bring on the Lucas electric, oil leak and reliability jokes.

    When sorted, these cars are faster and more economical than the Legend due to their better, (0.3 Cd) aerodynamics, and are easier and cheaper to repair than the same age Audi and BMW equivalents, which are now also old European cars but without the interesting back story.

    Like 2
  12. Rob

    I’ve got one. 1988 825SL. 87k miles. Got it a couple years of years ago. Pretty good condition and yes, never have seen another one here in NY since. A couple of oddball electrical issues but nothing major… yet. Dale at is great. Knows these cars inside and out and is very helpful with parts.

    Like 3
    • Concinnity

      The car they are based on, the Rover 800 series, was Britains best selling executive class car for years, largely due to the success of the 2.0 litre models, for which there is a very big European market. They were quite successful in Europe with many 820s being sold in France and Italy. I have an 820 fastback and an 825 sedan, both performing quite well with each over 100,000 miles on.
      The fun thing to do is take the 800 turbo motor and put it in the Rover 400. It goes as well as a 300bhp Integra/Civic would be expected to.I only have one of those.

  13. landt

    Toyota saved Porsche from imminent bankruptcy in the 90’s by teaching Porsche how to -build- cars. Sad that Sterling didn’t learn fundamental lessons during its association with Acura/Honda.

    Porsche knew it was in trouble, and brought Toyota in as a (particularly effective) consultant. Sterling was just looking to share some pieces in order to reduce costs. Sterling was in denial about the level of trouble it was in.

    Had a friend with a Sterling. It was a nightmare.

    • wuzjeepnowsaab

      @lndt, what attracted me to the Sterling was it had more design elements – inside and out – than the Legend… I was considering the 827 liftback (This was 1989 and Honda had upgraded the engine to the 2.7l at that time). Honestly, the Legend looked like a large Accord which looked like just about every other vanilla offering coming in off the Western shores.

      But the nail in the coffin for my choice against it was that Sterling was gone and Acura dealers wouldn’t touch them. In the days before user groups and google, that was the kiss of death…

      Like 1
  14. Wrong Way

    Someone who knows the answer to my question, please respond! Is there some kind of connection between the Sterling car, and the Sterling big truck? I am only asking because when I retired there seemed to be more and more Sterling big trucks infiltrating the OTR world! All I ever heard from people who had experience driving a Sterling big truck, hated them with a passion! They all told me they are junk!

    Like 1
    • Concinnity

      No connection at all. When Daimler Benz, through it’s US subsidiary Freightliner, bought Ford’s Louisville truck line, they needed a brand name to sell the line. The main truck line was a sort of series 2 of the Ford Louisville/Aeromax line but other models were based on different parts of the Daimler Benz empire, like a Mitsubishi-Fuso, and a Dodge Ram based model. The brand name was available for trucks because White had stopped using it in the fifties, and White’s new owner, Volvo Trucks didn’t object.
      In the end Daimler decided to concentrate on their Western Star and Freightliner brands and dropped the Sterling brand in 2010ish. Quality issues didn’t help.
      Interestingly Ford is now expressing an interest to get back into trucks again with F series based models.
      See also

  15. Mike

    I’d buy it in a second if I had the funds. I had the exact same year and in the same colors. It was a hand-me-down from my lawyer mother. When I was 18, I crashed sliding sideways going 75 mph and that car saved my life. I still have recurring dreams that it gets fixed up after the accident and I continue to drive it.

    Like 1
  16. T.W.

    If anyone is following this thread…I bought this very Sterling and proceded to immediately drive it from Idaho back to New England without any significant faults…

    Like 1
    • Concinnity

      Excellent. Remember if you need parts, is a good source.

      • T.W.

        Thanks. There’s something extra-special planned for this Sterling, so keep your eyes peeled on the internets…

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